Caring for the Muse – Part II

I am a list-maker. Every day I have a To Do list, and if I do something that isn’t on the list, I have been known to write it on the list and then immediately cross it off. It’s very satisfying.

So I’m going to continue yesterday’s theme with a slightly expanded list of “How to Care for Your Muse in Troubled Times.” (I suppose these might also work in non-troubled times, if there are such things. The present times seems especially troubled, however, so those are the conditions I have in mind for this list of artistic self-care.)

  • Check out Sarah Urist Green’s fun, inspiring, & educational YouTube Channel, The Art Assignment. Her series is filled with ideas for making art whether you are an artist or not, and whether you have art supplies or not.
  • Watch this dated (yes, the language is entirely masculine, and yes the people are mostly white) but still awesome short film: Why Man Creates.
  • Take your smartphone or camera and take some pictures. Take anything. Make it silly or documentary or sexy or weird or whatever you want. Try out some of the strangest filters on your phone, or on an app like Instagram.
  • Try journalling. Sometimes this helps me, but other times it can actually make me feel worse if I fall into a tailspin of self-pitying introspection. Jude for yourself how it’s making you feel.
  • If there is a certain movie that inspires you, watch it! For me it’s (don’t laugh) 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan.
  • Move! I don’t mean load all of your belongings onto a truck and move across the country, but physically get your body moving. Run. Dance (this one terrifies me, which is one reason I should probably do it). Exercise. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Play a sport. Move!
  • Make a thwinting sound. I’ll explain what I mean by this later. Or not. In the meantime, do whatever YOU think it means!

Shaking My Foundations

"The Shaking of the Foundations" - artwork
milkpaint art by Brian Hutzell

My intent was to blog and vlog every day, not because I think the world desperately wants to hear from me that often, but because I need the practice blogging and vlogging. It’s been hard lately, though, because I just haven’t felt like it, and when I have started to write or record, I too often have been finding myself bitching and moaning about the state of the world, or talking myself from one level of depression  down to an even lower level of depression.

I wasn’t in a great place mentally or emotionally at the start of 2020, but then COVID-19 came along and wiped out my job and two theatre shows I was playing. Then came a series of police killings and the demonstrations and occasional riots that followed in response. Throughout both crises, the lack of leadership at the top has been woefully apparent, exacerbating the situation and turning an already tense time into a disaster.

Then, warming to the task, the universe decided to give me one more smack: A spot of skin cancer was spotted on my leg. The operation to remove it took a pretty good chunk out from just above my right knee. It has been painful, and until today has prevented me from doing much walking, which has traditionally been my primary method of combating depression. In short, things have not been swell.

When I think about my own troubles, however, I recognize that they come off as the whining of a not-well-off-but-not-poor white-privileged guy living in relative comfort, who doesn’t have to worry about many of the problems that beset other groups of people. Acknowledging that doesn’t make me feel any better. It does, however, add a layer of guilt on top of everything else.

Maybe that’s good. Maybe I need a little pain and a little guilt. Make I need to have my foundation shaken a bit (maybe even stirred!) I think of a line from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall: “If I get too mellow, I ripen and rot.”

So time to shake off the dust and get moving. No one except flies and worms likes rotten fruit.

 

 

The Beat Goes On

My last blog post was a bit of a downer, so this morning I am going to try to turn that around. I tend to be a glass half-empty person, so when the news bombards me with one bad thing after another, it is all too easy to succumb to depression. When I fall into that unhappy state, I find it difficult to even move, though I know movement is what I crave most. Some of the remedies available to cure my depression have disappeared with the self-quarantining and social distancing brought about by COVID-19, but if I catch myself in time, I can exercise, stretch, watch an uplifting video on YouTube, or read…anything to snap my mind away from darkness.

If I don’t catch myself in time, I can still pull myself out of the hole with even a very simple movement. A micro-movement. This is a trick that is talked about in self-help circles. When the big jobs seem too big, break them down into manageable chunks. When the road seems too overgrown to be passable, just take one step at a time. (I think of the great song “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” from the holiday special Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.)

NOTE: If you suffer from depression, even just little bit, even just once in a while, do this: Find the number of a helpline and program it into your phone. Write it on a notepad to keep by your bed, by your chair, wherever you think you might need it. Do this now so it will be there and handy and waiting for you if you ever need it.

So here are a few micro-movements that can get me moving when I sink into a funk. Corny? Simplistic? Yes, that’s the point. They have to be so easy that I have no excuse to not do them.

  • Smile
  • Life my arms
  • Stretch my legs
  • Go get a glass of water
  • Make a funny face

Again: If you are in a seriously bad spot, seek help.

If you are not depressed, but just need a way to feel less hopeless and helpless in the world, try one or more of these:

  • Make a phone call
  • Write an old-fashioned pen on paper letter
  • Go online not to argue but to spread some joy. Say “hello” to someone. Like someone’s cute puppy picture. Compliment somebody.
  • If you can afford it, donate to a good charity or buy a creator’s artwork or craft.

Corny? Simplistic? Easy? Yup. But I’ll try to follow this advice next time I’m blue, and I hope you will too.

 

 

Today I stopped to get gas…

Today I stopped to get gas. While filling my car—okay, I confess, it’s an SUV—I was not alone. The pumps were all occupied, and the convenience store at which I was stopped seemed to be doing a good business. Of all the people I saw, I was the only one wearing a mask.

Back on the road, I couldn’t help but notice how much more traffic there was this week than there had been last week or a month ago. Restaurants with outdoor seating were hopping. Parking lots were full. Groups of people were gathering with circles of tight radii. Anywhere I looked, social distancing was not to be found.

Iowa is open for business. Is it too soon? Only time will tell. What is not debatable is that a lot of people don’t seem to care whether it is or isn’t premature. Many folks obviously aren’t concerned about what health officials and disease experts have to say.

I too am anxious for a return for normalcy. I too am going somewhat stir crazy. I too am concerned for the economy. But I am not willing to put of my fellow American at risk because I want a haircut. That’s not an exchange I’m willing to make, and the chance that reopening at this time might turn out fine is a gamble I’m not willing to make.

In lieu of any clear message from our leaders, it is up to each of us to make wise decisions. We—all of us—need to put the greater good first. We—all of us—need to exercise good judgement and caution. That means seeking out reliable information and acting from a place of knowledge. It means basing our decisions on concern for others. Anything less is foolish, selfish, short-sighted, and potentially dangerous.

Here’s one YouTube channel I have found helpful: Healthcare Triage.

In down-to-earth language, Dr. Aaron Carroll explains what’s going on in today’s health news, and answers some of the questions surrounding COVID-19. Am I suggesting you take every word he says as gospel truth and end your search there? No, but this is a good place to start.

Be safe. Be kind.